Self-hosted music is a pain when you use both Android and iOS

Having gone from two iOS devices, to two Android devices and one iOS device in the last 8 months or so, there have been a lot of changes in how I handle different content. PDF files still hang out only on my iPad, as it’s king of those files with apps like GoodReader and GoodNotes. My todo tasks are now on Android, but thanks to email integration with Astrid it’s very multi-OS where I simply use email from iOS to automatically have it appear in my todo list on Android. Video was perhaps the easiest to get used to, since both my Android devices basically have no restrictions on what they can play, making it all easier. Plex and Netflix still make sure I have multi-OS support on that front if I want to though.

There is however one thing that hasn’t been as smooth a transfer: Music. I know a lot of people swear by services like Spotify and Google Music, but the kind of music I listen to simply isn’t on Spotify, and Google Music is US only. Bottom line, I’m still in the personal music library state of things when it comes to music, and I frankly like it that way. Back when I had iOS devices, iTunes handled my music, and that was just fine. With the first Android device entering the system, it didn’t really get much music on it since I don’t much care for those methods that tie Android into iTunes.

When Android got the majority vote, though, iTunes was abandoned. I started using Dropsync to sync music automatically using Dropbox, mirroring my computer(/Dropbox) music folder to my phone and tablet automatically. It’s working wonderfully, and I simply love just adding music to a folder on my computer, and then having it already indexed on my mobile devices the next time I use them. I still buy music through iTunes, convert the tracks to MP3, re-tag them with embedded album art (iTunes keeps album art separately), and then add it to my music folder. I think iTunes’ music purchasing system works well, and the ease of publishing to iTunes means that all the YouTube artists that I listen to tend to publish on iTunes before anything else.

As of this week, I’ve even gotten my old Sansa Clip+ MP3 player back in the game, after years of it being too “low tech” in the syncing department for me to bother with it. I’ve shown how to sync such an MP3 player with a phone/tablet manually here on Pocketables before, and the latest iteration of that system uses Tasker to do the entire thing automatically. Any music I have on my computer ends up on my phone and tablet automatically, and plugging in the Clip+ to my phone now does a sync to it from that same up-to-date library, without me even pressing a single button. Making sure that a device has the latest music is absolutely paramount for me to use it for music, and now I have several computers, two Android devices, and an MP3 player that all stay up to date more or less on their own.

And then I have the iPad. The iPad which has such apps as SonicMax and Track 8 that are both excellent apps in their own ways. But I never actually use it for music, because it’s the only device I have that doesn’t play nice with the music syncing system I’m currently using. You can’t just have the iPad pull music from Dropbox, because it isn’t designed for that. It needs some sort of iTunes connection, be it wireless or wired, but it isn’t capable of functioning on its own. To be honest, I haven’t really dug down into the jailbreaking community to see if there’s a workaround, and I should do that, but honestly it’s just such a pain to have that one device that goes “I don’t wanna,” when even a matchbox sized MP3 player from 2009 is integrated into the system.

I’ve defended iTunes in the past, and to be fair, iTunes syncing makes a lot of sense when you’re invested in the eco system. With iTunes on a computer and two devices that sync to it, I find it quite easy to forgive some instability and slowness from the PC program when you have a system that otherwise works nicely, and gives you some advantages you don’t otherwise get: Categorizing video as TV show/movie/podcast/music video, gapless playback, mixing music videos and music, and so on. When you have a single iOS device that you’re trying to make work with other OSes however, music is perhaps the part of iOS which is still the most locked down.

I think this is a problem, but not really a problem that I expect to be resolved. Both Bryan and I now use both iOS and Android side-by-side, and I think that we both agree that it has its ups and downs. We’re in the minority, though, as most people tend to stick to one OS,  and even go to extremes to defend every stupid decision made by the companies behind those OSes. Bottom line, when OSes play nice, it’s likely an accident or the result of third party software rather than a deliberate attempt at doing the right thing. When it comes to Apple and iTunes, the way that it incorporates useful, yet non-standard features in the way it handles media unfortunately means that it’s unlikely to change that anytime soon.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.